Ambush Marketing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

May 27, 2014

“If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”

Of course, when making that statement, Edson Arantes do Nascimento (or “Pele” as he is affectionately known to the World) was referring to the sporting battle on the playing field. However, the same mantra could be applied to the less-sporting, equally as aggressive and ever-evolving fight between global brands who are seeking to achieve a level of exposure greater than that of their rivals.

Some brands elect for the official (and, in most cases, more costly) route to achieve that valuable publicity. For example, there are three tiers of sponsorship for the FIFA 2014 World Cup. The highest tier is made up six World Cup 2014 “FIFA Partners” (adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai/Kia Motors, Emirates, Visa and Sony). Secondly, there are eight “FIFA World Cup Sponsors” (including, McDonalds, Budweiser, Castrol and Continental). Lastly, there are eight “National Sponsors” (which includes six Brazilian companies alongside Football For Hope and FIFA itself). All of these sponsors have made substantial (completely above-board) payments to FIFA for these valuable rights.

However, for every official sponsor, there are multiple unofficial brands attempting to benefit from the unrivalled exposure of a major sporting event such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It is estimated that the last World Cup Final in 2010 between Spain and the Netherlands attracted a worldwide audience of approximately 700 million. This meant that an astonishing 10% of the World’s population watched on aghast as referee Howard Webb (yes, an Englishman in an international football final) took the innovative approach of applying the rules of a different sport (on this occasion kick-boxing) to an association football match.

Broadly speaking, ambush marketing can be defined as an “attempt by a third party to associate itself directly or indirectly with a major event to benefit from the goodwill or prestige of the event, without having to pay for that privilege as an official sponsor would do.”

Anti-ambush marketing measures, designed to preserve the incentive for sponsors to invest in events, are enforced more thoroughly and aggressively than ever before. FIFA has sought to protect the World Cup against ambush marketing by employing the same techniques as the International Olympic Committee by registering trade marks for the name of the competition and for the image of the World Cup trophy in most countries around the World. In addition, FIFA has also required the host nation to enact legislation to protect the image of the World Cup tournament.

The FIFA guidance for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil lists protected terms and sets out examples of “unauthorised association” with illustrations of unacceptable advertising (

However, despite extreme policing that would make some Arab dictators blush, there are numerous instances of brands successfully associating themselves with international football tournaments without having to pay a premium for official sponsorship.

At the 2006 World Cup, approximately one-thousand Dutch fans watched their team play against the Ivory Coast in only their onderbroek after being denied entry for wearing lederhosen bearing the logo of the Dutch Bavaria Brewery which was not an official World Cup sponsor.

Similarly, during the 2010 World Cup, the same unscrupulous or inventive (depending upon your particularly point of view) brewery arranged for 36 women clad in orange miniskirts to attend the Netherlands vs. Denmark match in Johannesburg. Tournament officials evicted the group en masse from the stadium at which time they were promptly arrested and held by the Police. In what was beginning to sound like a hostage situation, they were eventually released after talks between the management of Bavaria Brewery and FIFA. For the avoidance of doubt, the author has no knowledge as to whether FIFA President Sepp “Let’s get women to play in different and more feminine garb than the men, in tighter shorts for example” Blatter took it upon himself to personally cross examine each of the 36 Dutch models. Incidentally, this also led to ITV cancelling the £150,000 a year contract of mediocre TV pundit and former Crazy Gang member Robbie Earle, as many of the tickets had originated from him.

Fans are one route via which you can get your brand in front of the TV cameras but the more effective ambush marketing vehicle is the use of participants of an event. Instead of paying a considerable event sponsorship fee, some brands elect to take the more cost effective route of contracting with individuals who will use equipment or wear attire that displays that brand’s logo; thereby creating the intended association with the event.

You may recall that, after scoring a rare goal for Denmark during the 2012 European Championships, the self-proclaimed (and mildly delusional) “best striker in the World” A.K.A Nicklas Bendtner exposed himself (well his green boxer shorts) which were branded with the words ‘Paddy Power’. Ladbrokes were the official betting partner of the governing body and UEFA, not unlike some of the half-built World Cup stadia in Brazil (who needs stadia roofs?!), came down like a ton of bricks.

In fact, that particular Irish bookmaker has a history of ingenious ambush marketing campaigns. Who can forget Epi Taione (the Tongan Rugby Player) who controversially changed his name to “Paddy Power” for the duration of the 2007 Rugby World Cup?

It is clear that the obstacles facing event organisers wishing to prevent ambushing are abundant, making absolute prohibition near impossible. On 12 June 2014 the World Cup opening ceremony will be staged at the Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo. During the ceremony, a mind-controlled exoskeleton will demonstrate that a person with paralysis can walk. As this date fast approaches, the unofficial sponsors will ramp up their campaigns to deliver their subliminal marketing messages in their own attempt at mind control.

The success or failure of these strategies could be worth millions to the brands. Pele was right, “If you are second, you are nothing”.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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